To create a dense compact tree, each year Christmas tree growers cut the top leader of spruce and fir back to 10 to 14 inches and remove competing leaders. They make the terminal cut 3/8 to 1/2 inch above one good large side bud, which will develop into the new leader, and cut or rub off other nearby buds to prevent multiple leaders from forming. The growers shear or prune the remaining side branches to shape the tree during late summer or winter after new growth hardens and before the next season’s growth begins. They are not concerned about pruning to a specific bud on these cuts.
On pines the cuts are made before new growth hardens, so that new buds form during that growing season. The growers prune the central leader back to 10 to 14 inches long when it expands fully but before the stem hardens. Then all the other lateral candles are cut 4 inches shorter than the central leader. Candles on lower branches are cut as needed to make a symmetrical, tapered pyramid.
These growers often use knives and hedge shears; in less experienced hands these tools may give the tree a severe appearance and can easily damage the ends of the needles. It is better to use hand pruners. If the tree grows too tall to prune from the ground, use a pole pruner or stepladder.